Kentucky Derby 2023: How to watch the action, what you need to know

You have questions about the 2023 Kentucky Derby? We’ve got answers.

When, where and how to watch the Kentucky Derby

The 149th running of the Kentucky Derby is the 12th of 14 races at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 6, with a scheduled post time of 6:57 p.m. ET.

Derby Day coverage will begin at noon ET on NBC and Peacock.

How did the horses get here?

Entry into the Kentucky Derby is determined by a point system that began last September and tracked horses in their 2- and 3-year-old seasons. Horses earned points by placing first, second, third or fourth in specified races in the year leading up to the Derby.

Select prep races in March and April provided the most points, and placing first or second in those races essentially guaranteed a spot into the Kentucky Derby field.

The horses with the most points were Forte (190), Practical Move (160), Angel of Empire (154), Tapit Trice (150) and Two Phil’s (123).

The point system was created in 2012 to determine entry into the 20-horse field. The previous system was based on the amount of earnings horses won from any graded stakes race.

What are the stakes for the 2023 Kentucky Derby?

The Derby has a $3 million purse which to be awarded to the connections of the top five horses. The winner will get $1.86 million. Second place earns $600,000, third $300,000, fourth $150,000 and fifth $90,000. Jockeys also receive a prize, with the winning rider earning $186K.

Who are the names to know?

The 3-1 morning line favorite is Forte, who has won six of seven lifetime races and has not lost since he finished fourth in the Sanford Stakes last July. Forte is most recently coming off a one-length win in the Florida Derby.

Forte is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has the most starters of any trainer in Derby history with 62 prior entries. Pletcher has three starters in this year’s Derby: Tapit Trice (5-1), Kingsbarns (12-1) and Forte. He has won the race twice with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017.

Brad Cox wins the game of most entries, however. He’ll start Hit Show (30-1), Verifying (15-1), Jace’s Road (50-1) and Angel of Empire (8-1). Cox has won 81 races this year, which ranks fourth among all trainers, and his entries have won $9.4 million, which leads the country. Pletcher is second in earnings this year.

As for jockeys, watch out for the Ortiz brothers. Irad Ortiz Jr., the leading jockey in the country by wins, will be on Forte. Ortiz Jr. won the 2022 Belmont Stakes and earned the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey.

His brother, Jose Ortiz, will ride Kingsbarns. Jose Ortiz won the Preakness last year and is currently ninth in the country in wins this year.

What is the story with this year’s race?

The field will likely be run with only 19 horses after the list of also-eligibles was exhausted with three scratches Thursday, and a fourth horse, Skinner, was withdrawn by John Shirreffs on Friday morning because of an elevated temperature.

Cyclone Mischief (30-1), Mandarin Hero (20-1) and King Russell (50-1) all drew into the race Thursday after the scratches.

Lord Miles was scratched after trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended by Churchill Downs after two of his trainees collapsed and died during workouts at the track earlier in the week.

Practical Move, trained by Tim Yakteen, was scratched because of an elevated temperature Thursday. Continuar was scratched after trainer Yoshito Yahagi felt his colt’s fitness level was not up to par.

The three horses that are now in the race will break from the outside posts. While the program numbers will stay the same, all horses breaking outside Practical Move, who was No. 10, will move inside one spot.

Cyclone Mischief (No. 21) will break from Post 18, Mandarin Hero (22) will break from Post 19 and King Russell (No. 23) will break from Post 20.

The last time the Derby had four scratches was in 2015, however one of those was also-eligible Tale of Verve, who did not get to draw in because El Kabeir was withdrawn after the scratch deadline. International Star also scratched on race day, leaving the field size at 18.

Although three horses were scratched in the rescheduled running of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, one would have to go back to the 1962 Derby to find a similar number of scratches for a traditional running of the race. Three horses withdrew that year, including morning-line favorite Sir Gaylord, who was found to have a fracture and retired the day before the race.

For more on this year’s field, check out Anita Marks’ 2023 Kentucy Derby betting guide.

What are post positions and why do they matter?

The Derby is usually a 20-horse field, which is the biggest any horse will see in North American racing. That means the post position, or what gate a horse breaks from, makes a difference, even when the field is down to 19 horses.

Rich Strike won from post position 20 last year, a gate that has produced only one other winner (Big Brown in 2008).

The most dreaded post positions are usually on the inside of the track, with No. 1 and No. 2 typically being the toughest to navigate. The last winner produced from the first post was Ferdinand in 1986, with only 16 horses in the field. The last winner to break from post No. 2 was Triple Crown winner Affirmed in 1978, when only 11 horses were in the field.

The two post positions with the biggest win drought are No. 14, which hasn’t produced a winner since Carry Back in 1961, and No. 17, which has never produced a winner.

The most successful post position is No. 5, which has produced 10 winners, with Always Dreaming being the last to do so in 2017.

What has happened since last year’s Derby?

Rich Strike, who got into the Derby after a late scratch, shocked the world last year as an 80-1 winner, the second-largest upset in Derby history. Rich Strike skipped the Preakness, which was won by Epicenter, and finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes behind winner Mo Donegal.

Rich Strike has raced five times since the 2022 Derby without a win, and will make his 4-year-old debut in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on Friday.

How often do a big upsets happen?

Rich Strike was the biggest upset since 91-1 shot Donerail won in 1913, but there have been quite a few upsets in modern times. Country House was placed first at 65-1 odds after Maximum Security was disqualified in 2019. Mine That Bird came streaking up the rail to win at 50-1 odds in 2009 (later inspiring the movie “50-1”).

Giacomo (50-1) was a big upset in 2005 and Charismatic was a surprise in 1999 at 32-1 odds.

The points system has changed how often the favorite wins the race. Only two favorites won the race from 1980 to 2012 (Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Big Brown in 2008). From 2013 to 2018, the favorites won five races: Orb in 2013, California Chrome in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015, Nyquist in 2016 and Justify in 2018.

Where is Bob Baffert?

Six-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert was a mainstay at the race until 2021. He won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015 and with Justify in 2018, and won a COVID-19-postponed running of the Derby in 2020.

Baffert’s horse Medina Spirit crossed the finish line of the 2021 Kentucky Derby first, but the colt was later disqualified after postrace testing came up positive for betamethasone, a banned substance.

Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Churchill Downs, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Turfway Park in Kentucky, among other tracks, banned Baffert from running horses at its tracks for two years in 2021.

The ban, which was recently upheld in court, also means that Baffert-trained horses cannot earn points toward the Kentucky Derby. This is why Reincarnate, a former Baffert trainee, was transferred to Baffert’s former assistant Tim Yakteen in February.

Yakteen ran Taiba and Messier in the Derby last year before they were transferred back to Baffert’s barn. Baffert is eligible to run horses in the Preakness and Belmont after his one-year ban from New York Racing Association tracks (including Belmont Park) expired in January.

More Kentucky Derby coverage: Updated odds, post positions, jockeys